The Chemistry Council Innovation Conference: Road to Net Zero

02 December 2019

The Chemistry Council Innovation Conference: Road to Net Zero

The ‘Chemistry Council Innovation Conference: Road to Net Zero’ was held at SCI HQ on 6th November 2019, focusing on three important areas: the Chemistry Council Strategy, the Sector Deal and the impact of Brexit on the chemical industry.

Opening the day, Sharon Todd, SCI’s Chief Executive, highlighted to the audience that in order to face the challenges of today and to drive innovation, the chemical industry needs to restructure by building connectivity into other sectors.

The Chemistry Council Strategy

SCI’s President, Paul Booth, OBE, Chair, Tees Valley Local Enterprise Partnership then addressed the audience on the topic of the Chemistry Council Strategy and the Sector Deal. The Chemistry Council, is a joint industry / government initiative, representing one of the largest industrial sectors in the UK.

It published its strategy in November 2018 publicizing its vision of ‘Sustainable Innovation for a Better World’. In its bid to deliver economic value and Net Zero, the Chemistry Council has set out clear KPIs to achieve by 2030. Within these in a target to increase plastic recycling such that 100% of plastic packaging be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Its target to bring economic value and jobs sees a proposed £2 bn annual investment in the sector, providing 49,000 extra jobs. 

The Chemistry Council Sector Deal

In November of this year the Chemistry Council submitted its Sector Deal Proposal to Government, in which a £200 bn market opportunity could be realised for the sector, with approximately £83 bn arising from sustainable materials for consumer products, £11 bn from sustainable packaging and £12 bn from advanced materials for health and wellbeing.

The main outputs of the proposed sector deal are a significant shift to sustainable materials and ingredients, transition to economically competitive green energy, improved capabilities for recycle and reuse, regional developments, support for SMEs to grow and upskilling of the workforce.

Illustrating that chemistry underpins all of this, Paul Booth, OBE, Chair of Tees Valley Local Enterprise Partnership and SCI President, highlighted that 96% of our consumer products use chemistry in their development. From the chemistry and materials that are required to secure the automotive supply chain to novel technology to generate, store and transport low carbon energy, chemistry solutions are at the heart of the journey to net zero.

Brexit and the Sector

With continued uncertainty and volatility around Brexit, Steve Elliott, Chief Executive, CIA, provided an update on the impact of Brexit within the chemical sector. The chemical and pharmaceutical industries are the most vulnerable to UK/EU disruption, he explained. To mitigate any risks, the industry has been working hard on three fronts: to encourage a deal, whilst preparing for no deal and simultaneously pre planning for a future relationship with Europe.

The result of this hard work has led to a huge increase in Government understanding and appreciation of our industry, a significant improvement in supply chain relationships and an opportunity to secure our Chemistry Council sector deal.

UK funding landscape

Paul Gadd, Deputy Director of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) spoke of the strong alignment between Innovate UK and the Chemistry Council. Innovate UK is part of UKRI and is the UK’s innovation agency. Both Innovate UK and the Chemistry Council have a clear focus on growth from sustainable innovation and a drive for ‘create and make’ in the UK.

‘Chemistry Using Industries’ have received in total £251m of Innovate UK Grant Funding between 2009 and 2018, awarded to a total of 709 projects with 978 unique participants. With a growing budget, UKRI is able to help more and more organisations with funding and is keen to identify opportunities that it can support.

Gadd spoke of UKRI’s support for the automotive industry, with £255m of funds for projects that will support an uptake of low emission vehicles, increase the UK’s capability for vehicle charging and will position the UK at the forefront of connected and autonomous vehicle research.

Road to net zero

What was clear from the discussions from the day is that on our journey to net zero the solutions to our challenges all lie in chemistry, presenting an abundance of opportunities for the UK chemical industry. From exploring new ways of managing waste in the pharmaceutical industry to looking at advanced materials for batteries to help facilities to the move to electric vehicles, the prospects are vast. 

As we wait to hear on the next steps of the £1 bn sector deal, and we look ahead to the targets set out to be achieved by 2030, we welcome this huge push to facilitate investment and growth in the UK.

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